Blues Bytes


October/November 2012

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Lazy Lester
Harp & Soul
Alligator Records

Lazy Lester

In the mid 1950s, harmonica player Lazy Lester met guitarist Lightnin’ Slim on a bus. Slim was looking for a harmonica player and the two soon began playing together. Soon, Lester was recording for the famed Excello Records, both as a frontman and also as a session musician, providing harmonica and percussion (using drums, cardboard boxes, newspapers, and other items) on many Excello sides.

In the last ’60s, Lester gave up playing altogether, embittered by not receiving royalties for the many songs we wrote, and worked manual labor. In the mid ’80s, Fred Reif convinced Lester to return to music and he recorded a great set for Kingsnake called Lazy Lester Rides Again in 1987.

In 1988, Lester released Harp & Soul for Alligator Records, backed by a band that included Kenny Neal, Ernie Lancaster, and Robert Thomas on guitar, producer Bob Greenlee (who headed Kingsnake Records) on bass, Lucky Peterson and Teo Leyasmeyer on piano, Floyd Miles and Denzil Best on drums, and Reif on washboard.

The album featured ten tracks, including a new instrumental by Lester (“Alligator Shuffle”), several remakes of his Excello sides (“Take Me In Your Arms,” “Patrol Wagon,” “Bye Bye Baby”), and several interesting covers. Looking at the list of tracks, you might think Lester is stepping out of his swampy comfort zone by tackling deep soul numbers like “The Dark End of the Street,” and Windy City blues favorites like “Five Long Years” and “I’m A Man,” but what actually happens is that Lester gives these tunes the “swamp treatment,” converting them into classic examples of swamp blues.

With Lester’s laid-back vocal and his fine and mellow harmonica, every song he touches gets the “swamp treatment.” His loping revision of Guitar Slim’s “I Done Got Over It” is outstanding, as is his countrified reading of “Dark End.” Even better is the cover of Slim Harpo’s “Raining In My Heart,” which is nearly as good as Harpo’s original.

As good as Harp & Soul was, Lester and Alligator never reunited for a follow-up, which was probably not a big deal for Lester, who would rather be fishing anyway. In 1998, he finally returned to the studio for Antone’s Records. He eventually recorded twice for the Austin label, but continues to perform and record the occasional tune when he feels like it, or when the fish aren’t biting.

--- Graham Clarke
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